National Science Week: July 27th to August 04th at various venues

The report on our activities can be found here.


If all goes well and if the notoriously fickle Cape winter weather gives us a break, National Science Week will see Auke, Lynnette and myself setting up at various venues promoting science in general and astronomy in particular.  Pay us a visit at the following venues.

Saturday the 27th and Sunday the 28th of July – Zewenwacht Mall in Kuils River
Monday the 29th and Wednesday the 31st of July – Bellville Public Library coinciding with their annual Careers Exhibition
Tuesday the 30th of July – Brackenfell Public Library
Friday the 02nd and Saturday the 03rd of August – Willowbridge Centre
Sunday the 04th August – Ampitheatre at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront

You probably noticed that Thursday the 01st August is missing from the list.  That is because we have not as yet finalized the venue for the Thursday but that will take place as soon as possible.

The day program at the libraries will include talks in the mornings and afternoons while at the other venues we will give short talks or explanations at the poster display.  After sundown there will be a naked eye star gazing opportunity as well as the viewing of deep-space objects through a telescope.  There will also be a hands-on demonstration of how the Universe is studied using a modern telescope.

Fossils, Light & Time – South Africa’s unique fossil record.  The topic of this talk seems out of place in the astronomy context but, in placing the Southern African geological and paleontological background in the context of the Earth’s evolution, it connects with astronomy by comparing the enormous distances in the Universe (expressed as the time light would take to traverse them) to the equally vast spans of geological time comprising the Earth’s history.

South Africa’s Heritage in the Stars – Astronomy and Indigenous Knowledge.  This talk explores the rich ethnoastronomy of the sub-Saharan tradition cultures and in particular those of the Southern African region.  The talk, presented by Auke Slotegraaf not only covers aspects such as the Sun, Moon, planets and shooting stars but also highlights two /Xam Bushman narratives which he discovered and presented at an international conference on the history of astronomy in 2005.

Ancient comets and Space-age satellites: examples of maths in astronomy.  There is no talk specifically dedicated to mathematics but there are two specially prepared posters which illustrate mathematical concepts using examples from an astronomy background.  The intention is to focus attention on the fact that maths is an essential tool in the pure and applied sciences.

See what our ancestors saw – Star gazing with the naked eye.  This item is a guided tour of the night sky using a green laser to point out stars and planets that are visible with the naked eye. All presenters are certified laser operators with the Department of Health.
Both contemporary constellations, as used by modern astronomers and the traditional African constellations will be pointed out, in an attempt to highlight the fact that astronomy is an integral part of our cultural history and heritage.

See for yourself – Star gazing with a telescope.  Using a small telescope, members of the public will be able to view objects in the sky for themselves, without the aid of any electronics or other sophisticated instrumentation.

Studying the Universe with a 21st century telescope (Astronomy & Technology).  A computer-controlled telescope will be used to demonstrate to the public how astronomers study the Universe.  A live image of the object the telescope is pointing to, will be projected onto a large screen, making it easy to see even in the brightly lit city environment.
Using a live image of a deep space object makes explaining the physical nature of the object easier and also lends itself to showing how, in principle, the image would be analysed by astronomers.

A very nice layout with examples of the posters that will be on display can be viewed on Psycohistorian’s website by clicking here.

Gemini North Observatory Captures Comet ISON Speeding Toward the Sun

Gemini North Observatory has released new images of Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) racing toward what promises to be an uncomfortably close rendezvous with the Sun. By late November the comet could present a stunning sight in the twilight sky and remain easily visible, here or even brilliant, into early December of this year.

The images from Gemini Observatory are presented as a time-sequence, spanning early February through May 2013.  They clearly show the comet’s unexpectedly high activity despite the fact that it is still a long way from the Sun and Earth. The information provided by this series gives vital clues as to the comet’s overall behaviour and its potential to present a spectacular show when it comes closer to the Sun. Predictions about a comet’s brightness are notoriously difficult as they have to be made without knowing if the comet has the right composition to survive an extremely close brush with the Sun toward the end of November and go on to become the predicted early morning spectacle from Earth in early December 2013.

This time sequence from Gemini Observatory represents the comet while it was between roughly 730-580 million kilometres, or 4.9-3.9 astronomical units from the Sun, or just inside Jupiter’s orbit. Each image in the series, taken with the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph at the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawai‘i, shows the comet in the far red part of the optical spectrum, emphasizing that the comet’s dusty material is already escaping from what astronomers describe as a “dirty snowball.”

The images show the comet sporting a well-defined parabolic hood in the sunward direction that tapers into a short and stubby tail pointing away from the Sun. These features form when dust and gas escape from the comet’s icy nucleus and surround that main body to form a relatively extensive atmosphere called a coma. Solar wind and radiation pressure push the coma’s material away from the Sun to form the comet’s tail, which is seen here at a slight angle.